The practice of “surrogate farming,” or gathering large numbers of women to act as surrogate mothers for couples looking to adopt, is rapidly growing in India. On the surface, this practice seems to benefit all involved — the Indian woman make a decent wage, and the adopting couples are able to complete their family. But surrogate farming and the concept of surrogacy as a commercial industry might not be the universal blessing that it looks like on paper.
The surrogacy industry in India is loose, informal, and has few regulations. This makes it attractive to young women who are looking to make a good living, but don’t have a lot of employable skills or a high level of education. It also makes the industry attractive to adoptive parents, especially same-sex couples and single people, who may have a difficult time adopting in the U.S. due to state regulations, discrimination, or just plain old red tape.
For example, Brad Fister and his partner Michael Griebe wanted to start a family, but had a tough time doing so in the U.S. For one thing, U.S. adoptions are much more expensive than those done overseas, costing couples sometimes up to $100,000 in legal and medical fees. And same-sex couples like Brad and Michael who chose to use a surrogate couldn’t find an American woman willing to give up all her maternal rights. In India, adoptions only cost an average of $20,000, and more women are willing to sign away all their rights to the child they give birth to. It’s the answer many families are looking for.
But even though using Indian surrogates may be a blessing to some families, the surrogacy industry is a curse to others. Since the industry is so new, so informal, and so poorly regulated, it is becoming a magnet for poor women in desperate need of money, who may not particularly want to become surrogates. Lawmakers and advocates alike are concerned that teen girls and young women may be pushed or coerced into the industry because of a lack of other opportunities. And with no legal protections for surrogate mothers in India, there is nothing to prevent adoption and placement agencies from “fudging” a mother’s willingness to give up all maternal rights over the child. Since foreign adoptions have been on the rise, so have cases where poor women have been tricked into signing forms they don’t understand, some even thinking their child is just going to school overseas and will return eventually.
Additionally, surrogacy is a huge physical, emotional, and sometimes financial decision for a woman to make, in any country. Sure, there have been those few well-publicized cases of surrogate mothers who change their minds and no longer wish to give the child up after pregnancy, but those are only a small part of a larger and more complex industry. Women and girls need to have all the information available to them about the costs and benefits of surrogacy — physically, mentally, and financially. It’s a decision no one should be pushed into when they are not sure. And certainly no mother should be asked to sign away her parental rights without a full understanding of what that means.
So far, no cases in India have come to light where women are being clearly and directly trafficked into surrogacy. But the speed at which the industry is growing, the lack of protections for women in it, and the financial need of many Indian women are all huge red flags that this industry is ripe for exploitation. It would be nice, for once, to put protections in place now, instead of waiting for reports of women forced into surrogacy or engaged in brutal battles to reclaim the children that were tricked away from them.
Because there is no reason why the joy of making one family complete should come at the cost of tearing another apart.
Photo credit: Meanest India